Executive Architecture: A Game Changer on the Sandstone Precinct

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The more complicated the project, the bigger the case for an experienced Executive Architect to spearhead the scheme.

This has never been clearer than when working as the lead on Willow’s Sandstone Precinct, alongside the design team from UK firm, Make Architects, on the reimagining of the twin heritage structures above Circular Quay. Currently serving as NSW Government offices, the two buildings have substantial heritage value that have presented significant challenges to the project team.

Between us, our team has worked on dozens of heritage restoration and redevelopment projects across many parts of the world. I have no hesitation describing this as the most complicated heritage project in Australia today, and certainly the most complicated any of us have ever worked on.

The Sandstone precinct site is jointly overseen by Federal, State and municipal Government bodies and requires the deep involvement of heritage and archaeology bodies committed to maintaining everything of historic value on-site. It’s the best case I’ve ever seen for an Executive Architect to be lead consultant on a project.
Singapore’s Pontiac Land Group announced in late 2015 that it had secured the lease over The Sandstones from the NSW Government and would undertake a $300 million redevelopment process to transform it into two luxury hotels.

Willow (previously as Ridley) was brought onto ‘The Sandstones’ to oversee the project as the local registered architect, working alongside Make’s design architecture team. Willow has been working for the best part of two years to-date to thoroughly assess the twin sites and deliver a buildable design that protects and celebrates their heritage value.

Given the age and heritage aspects of the buildings, the lack of available original drawings and many modifications made to both structures over the years, a highly-detailed study of the existing site was critical. Ridley subsequently undertook a thorough point cloud survey to produce a working 3D digital model of the entire site.

This has involved laser-scanning the entire facility and assessing every structural element in close collaboration with heritage and archaeology experts, and the various Government stakeholders with responsibility over the site. The project team has had to constantly adapt, as this painstaking process has uncovered new heritage and structural elements that need to be incorporated into the final designs.

It is now apparent to the industry that Executive Architecture is no longer a subset of services that clients can choose to take or leave. It’s the preservation of vital control, particularly when a job is complicated. Willow’s Executive Architecture team works with everyone involved to navigate our collective way through those challenges and deliver what the client wants in its purest, unadulterated form.

Willow are fortunate on this project that Pontiac’s vision for the site celebrates The Sandstones’ heritage. The designs that Make are producing will result in an extraordinary and truly unique hotel, yet none of this would be possible without the finely-detailed groundwork and modelling Willow undertaking right now.
It’s projects like this that are making the case for more projects putting Executive Architecture and Willow in the forefront in this part of the world, particularly as CBD space becomes more of a premium and the need to repurpose existing structures increases. Our work provides a clear focus to enable a freedom for design architects like Make to deliver projects we can all be really proud of.
Tom White is Client Director at Willow, and an Architect with 20+ years experience delivering designs and solutions within existing and Heritage building fabric.

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